my gender is cowardice.

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remember kisschasey? that’s where it started.

it was the first year of school, so we would’ve all been five years old. The way the game works is that girls get a head-start then the boys take off to catch and kiss a girl each, after which the pursuit reverses, with the girl chasing the boy to kiss him back. No-one was sure whether I should be on the boys’ team, or the girls’ team. No-one, including me. Many of the girls were my friends, so I naturally wanted to be pack with them, and I certainly didn’t want to kiss them. There would never really be a decision about which side I was on, the game would usually just begin because the problem was too complicated for five-year-olds to resolve. Once everyone had taken off running and giggling and feigning disinterest in being kissed, I would at some point run into the boys’ bathroom and hide in a cubicle, imagining that someone was coming to kiss me. Looking back writing this, I realise the game has not changed much. Not for the negotiation of courtship and consent between men and women, and certainly not for me.

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Growing up in the 90s when being gay was still only discreetly cool in the upper echelons of celebrity-shadowing, being called “gay” or “faggot” wasn’t common but being called a “girl” as a form of denigration was frequent. The way I walked, that I wore my hair long, my mannerisms, the things I liked, and of course my choice of friends didn’t do much to deter that harassment.

When I was three, the childcare staff told my parents I’d been put in time out for losing my temper at a girl who had dared to wear a gold dress from the dress up box which was indisputably “mine”.

As young as twelve I fell into such a dislike of my body’s gender presentation I began binding myself in too-small underwear and by fourteen I had considered self-mutilation.

At home, wearing dresses continued right through to mid-adolescence, when I took a brief hiatus – that’s a lie, I continued to shop from the women’s side of the Cotton On for many years, but dresses were out for a while until I started wearing them again a couple of years ago and went public with a high-waisted skirt and a beard. I’ll to this day regularly say things like “I’m more of a Divinyls gal”, or “I don’t vote Liberal, I’m not that kind of girl”. I’ll never baulk at being referred to in the collective noun of “ladies” or thought of fondly as “one of the girls”.

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What’s it all about? Over the years I think the hard times might have given me cause to cling desperately to a vision of myself that didn’t lose their innocence so roughly, and that sincere sense of self I possess is easily encapsulated by that stereotype of sweetness, sixteen-ness, stillness of girlhood.

As recently as last year I’ve hit patches where thinking too deeply about my gender identity causes me too much confusion and sorrow to continue – and I confess that one of the biggest factors in backing out of this thinking is my conflicted feelings about how many social challenges I’ve been socialised to believe and have witnessed myself that trans and gender-diverse people face; in finding love, in succeeding in the workplace, in achieving whatever physical actualisation of their gender they desire, in receiving healthcare, in being able to travel. My gender identity is informed by my fear of losing something I didn’t think I had: male privilege. My gender identity is informed by my fear of what my loved ones would say, how they would adapt. So, I find myself thinking that my gender is terror, my gender is cowardice.

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My gender is constantly in a state of conviction, being bartered back and forth between fierce femininity and penile privilege. Sliding along the spectrum in one direction because I’m not masculine enough for manhood, then scaling along another slant because I respect womanhood and gender diversity as experiences I do not live and wouldn’t do the disservice or disregard of appropriating any further than colloquially. I am under no false illusions that this is a to-ing and fro-ing I’ll live on the trajectory of for a great deal of time, if not all my life.

Here’s where I’m at now. That in my thoughts about gender, I still feel room for choice and that is what sets several of the incredibly brave and beautiful humans I have been given the joyous gift of knowing apart in their experience from mine. For many of them there is not choice, there is simply the fact of who they are outside the double-edged sword of male and female; the inherent knowledge of difference and a resonance with alternatives and terms of identity I have yet to feel for anything other than “man”.

I grew up in a time where being transgender was a way to describe someone who was moving or had moved from one side of the binary of male and female to the other and once there that person was still known as either – being trans was not its own identity far as I knew then. Within a decade I find myself trying to comprehend what being tri-gender and enby means when I’m still stuck on what being a man means, and how I occupy that.

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Every time I step into darkness to battle with the binary, I have continually emerged male because I cannot get past believing that’s my fight; I feel it’s important for those like me to challenge and broaden what manhood is and wish to lead manhood forward out of toxic masculinity further from the patriarchal systems we are tightly bound to because its built from our gender presentation. For men to develop a compassion, and an empathy and a freedom to explore the roots of being men beyond clothing or interests or sexual exploits, that’s an image of men I want to perpetuate. I don’t want to leave my manhood behind, I want to make more of it, I want manhood – how it’s understood and talked about to adapt to include my kind of expression. To me, it matters to be a good man, and it matters that I identify as male as a means of demonstrating the room for diversity therein.

The fear I speak of is the same that paralyses me in moments where I’m in an environment where men become rowdy, or sexist, or any multitude of behaviours I know it’s important I stand up to. Somewhere inside me I yearn for their acceptance but I fear their predilection for communicating with violence or abuse. Men need intervention, not attention. I remember how positive a change I saw in men when ‘metrosexuality’ became popular, and how bitterly disappointed and ashamed I felt when the backlash came and not since have I witnessed any such valuing of self-care or sensitivity in men in Western cultures. But I’m not giving up on men yet, I’m not giving up on being a man.

Though I continue to grapple with what part prejudice plays in precluding me from being the person people ask or assume I am, what I’m sticking to is that though it may be cowardice that keeps me a man, it could be courage that drives me to change what that means.

images by Corie Shannon. insta @corieshannon.

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What being gay ISN’T.

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Is it time for my life and worth to be the subject of public debate again already?! Gosh time flies when you’re a “minority” at the peak of social cool but still pariahs for equal rights. Guaranteed there’ll be a few hurt feelings by the time this marriage equality debacle and anti-homophobia education conniption is over and we can let humans be happy in who they are independent of outdated discrimination. The LGBTIQA community constitutes a vast diversity (and likely majority) of people, all of whom deserve recognition as valuable contributors to the world by virtue of their humanity, not their plight or struggle.

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The incredible Gus. Image from Gayby Baby.

Here’s what being gay isn’t. It isn’t living as though lives haven’t been risked so you can fill yours up with as much self-expression, passion and joy as you possibly can. It isn’t forgetting your worth outside your community as much as in it. It isn’t mistaking triumph of yourself with torture of others or confusing making good with looking good. Having been accused of conforming to a stereotype in one breath and applauded for brave originality in the next, the pressure to choose sides or meet expectations is all-too-familiar when it comes to appearance, apparel, career, conversation, sex and social life. You name it, someone always has a question to ask. The response to such questions are almost always “nobody’s business but mine!”. Being gay ISN’T disrespecting the years of oppression, massacre and persecution LGBTI people have experienced in order to flourish in who you are, and that includes LGBTI people themselves.

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Sydney’s first Mardi Gras.

Being part of the LGBTI community does not preclude anyone from other prejudices or poor attitudes, just as being part of the community does not suddenly prescribe someone to a specific type of activity, or permit others to treat them as personal property or entertainment. Being gay ISN’T a novelty.

If being gay were about sex with people of the same sex, I’d have long been excommunicated. And if it were about having a gods-built body, hung for days, dressed designer and 1m followers on instagram, then I might have something to tell my parents. And allow me to note that I’m not a witty, fantastic lush because I’m  gay, but because I’m a witty fantastic lush. Everything I do, I do it for me, which is how I do it for you. What I’m hoping is that by living for yourself, you’ll see that everyone deserves the same rights to living their life, and so open your actions to be accepting, humble and supportive of the people and animals and planet around you. Being gay ISN’T adherence to a trope or stereotype, but the experience of a real, only-given-one-time human life.

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Hearing humans at Slut Walk Melbourne. Image by Chris Hopkins for The Age.

 

The two biggest issues in this country right now concerning diverse communities, of marriage equality and anti-homophobia education, when compared with the battles of other communities (of which some LGBTI people are part), is so far beyond ridiculous that our government should be ashamed, except for the part where it is a tactical manoeuvre of misdirection. Indigenous Australians still do not have the rights their lineage, their contribution to our country’s culture, and their triumph over oppression warrants. Refugees are traumatised further than anything an Australian can empathise with, further upon which we traumatise and torture their futures for no other reason than they were born somewhere else and sought to change their circumstances. Australians living with disabilities, everything from mobility to mental functionality, are continually excluded from spaces, employment, support and education models.

Compared to those issues, and the ones that plague the climate we thrive on, the wildlife we should respect, and the imbalanced economy we are manipulated by daily, the ability for me to marry the love of my life has all the trappings of a first-world problem. However, the socio-political equality that is a key component of the right to marry as my heterosexual or simply hetero-apparent? That is a right for which I should fight because it does impact the rights of others, does improve liberation of all people, and involve the consciousness and compassion of our species further and further away from the archaic, murderous notions that take the freedoms and lives of the brothers, sisters, betweens and beyonds in my community. Being gay ISN’T just about me.

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Speaking of those issues of marriage equality and anti-homophobia education, let’s recap:

  • Homophobia and transphobia impacts ALL children. Anyone can be called a homophobic slur or misgendered as a form of bullying in a school environment. Education about LGBTI people is what prevents those types of harassment from destroying the self-esteem and mental health of those students who experience it as attackers or sufferers.
  • We do have same-sex de facto relationships recognised in Australia, which isn’t the case in many countries where marriage equality has been introduced, and so there hasn’t been as much urgency. However, decisions on end-of-life care, custody of children, provision of insurances and family support, travel safety, organ/blood donation, census information are all impacted by the ability to declare your marital status.
  • The absolutely abhorrent state of sexual education in Australia is responsible for the kinds of abuses experienced that conservative and homophobe alike use to discredit and disparage LGBTI people. Suppression and shame of sexuality can have lasting and dangerous impacts on the individual, and therefore put others around that individual at risk, but not because they’re gay, but because they’ve been mentally beaten and made an animal by their torture, internal and societal.
  • Inclusivity has never had any impact but a positive one on society at large, and it is exclusivity from systems like marriage, like spiritual lifestyles, like politics and education that have created the insanity of our species. That insanity where we kill each other, we revert our very natures, we live in alarming disharmony with the resources of the planet and have developed a way of being to secure our own destruction as soon as humanly possible.

Being gay ISN’T a lot to ask of our fellow human beings.

See I can get married if I want, just not your way. I can have a child, I can educate myself, I can feel love, I can travel. There is no difference between your life and mine, except you’ve got it in your head that your way is the right way. I’ll gladly leave you to the delusion, or I can rescue you from the cruel fate of strangling yourself in your own web of prejudice. Choice is yours, because I didn’t get one.

B.